A history of Ireland in 100 objects: Pike, 1798





No Irish event of such consequence is more powerfully symbolised by a single object than the 1798 insurrection and the pike. Pikes had been a standard weapon of medieval and early modern armies, but by the 18th century they were much more strongly associated with revolutionary violence. Every village had a blacksmith, and pikes were cheap to make. So symbolic of popular insurrection has the weapon become that it is generally forgotten that crown forces in Ireland in 1798 used pikes as well.

The first seizure of hidden pikes was in Dublin in 1793. Four years later the directory of the United Irishmen ordered all members who could not afford firearms to equip themselves with pikes. They were made in vast numbers: more than 70,000 were found in government searches in Leinster and Ulster in 1797 alone. When fighting finally began, charges by massed ranks of pike-wielding men were the main rebel tactic. The rebel leader Joseph Holt claimed that “the pike, in a charge, was much superior to any other weapon”. Jonah Barrington, an independent observer, noted “the extreme expertise with which the Irish handled the pike”. But even this expertise was seldom sufficient for very long against trained troops....



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